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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Vineyards & Vistas on Italy's Amalfi Coast

There is no coastline more spectacular than Italy's Amalfi Coast. It has everything: breathtaking  precipices, villas and restaurants built out of the rock cliffs, a cantilevered, sinuous road and of course terraced lemon groves and " limoncello"!  This May I had the privilege of sharing this breathtaking scenery with the Birch family and friends who were celebrating , well should I say, some 'significant' birthdays.  Dan and Arlene Birch, former guests on a wine tour of South America decided to celebrate the occasions with a Vineyards and Vistas Tour of Italy.



Wine  was definitely not in short supply - the DOC region of Campania was within driving distance  - thankfully we had Giovanni of Italy Limousine to escort us safely from one winery to the other. Taurasi is the hilltop village which gives its name to this DOC wine made principally from the Aglianico grape (try to pronounce that will you!).  Antonio of Cantina Caggiano is known for his photographs as well as his for his unique wine cave and his ownTaurasi wine he presented to Pope John Paul II!  Another special visit was will Roberto of Di Meo - lovely property and outstanding wines! Roberto is always dreaming up new grape products, his recent being a perfume for the person or the room!  Fabuloso!  We happened upon Cantina aperto Sunday where participating wineries open their doors on the last Sunday in May to the public for special activities, tours and tastings. Casa di Baal is a small family run winery and olive oil farm.  We met the whole family - tasted their wines in the olive grove and delighted in their local cuisine - what were those? deep fried pizzas? 
Yes, we literally stocked up on enough wine to keep us fluid for the vistas part of the tour!  Our final and very special tasting was at the Montevetrano Winery with Silvia who is the genius behind this beautiful wine, a simple Bordeaux style with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and  the region's Aglianico (yes that word again).  She only makes one wine, and thus we were able to do a vertical comparison! What a treat to hear her story!

I have known Anna from La Vecchia Quercia (the old oak) since 2003 and visiting her property in the hills above Salerno is a peaceful experience. Anna has such a gentle manner as she explains her passion for the natural products she uses from the countryside where she grew up.  Breakfast was a culinary delight of freshly made jams, jellies and juices from the most unsuspecting fruits and vegetables, all accompanied by unpasteurized, scrumptious cheeses from the area. One night for dinner Anna had everyone rolling out real Italian ravioli pasta! MMMM Regale! 

This region of Italy near Paestum, the incredible Greek and Roman Archeological site is also known for Bufalo Mozzarella cheese as they have as many water buffalo as cattle in Alberta, okay maybe I am exaggerating a bit. Actually we didn't see that many buffalo but  we could certainly smell them and every second shop was selling fresh buffalo cheese!  We had a tour and a hot cheese tasting at the Rivabianca factory. No it was not raclette but warm freshy made mozzarella cheese right out the hands of the Mozzas, the strong men mixing, then pinching off just the right size of Mozzarella balls 50 grams, 250 grams - their well trained hands knew exactly how much to pinch off!

Stocked up on food and wine, it was time to get some exercise on the Amalfi Coast - some chose to walk  from shop to shop - yes that is called exercise! Some chose to enjoy a bottle of wine on the cafĂ© terraces (this too, weightlifting for the arm) and others braved a dip in the cool Mediterranean Sea after buying a souvenir beach towel from Amalfi, of course.  It took us all day to travel the 100km of this coastline and thanks to Giovanni we made it to the Capri ferry in time for the evening sail, everyone in one piece and no one car sick. Grazie mille Giovanni.  We boarded the ship just as all the day passengers were disembarking. This is the key to really enjoying the Isle of Capri - go when all the tourists are coming back, plan to stay in Annacapri, the small town on the highest peak where all the locals live and don't give the famous town of Capri much notice. After all, it is just name brand stores and high prices - there is much more to see as we discovered on our private boat trip around the Island. Incredible rock walls! The weather was not ideal on this tour (about 10C below normal) but somehow when we needed the sun it shone for us as it did on this voyage and the pizza/pasta birthday lunch which followed. Of course we had a few bottles of wine - we had a birthday to celebrate!  Other delights during our 2 day stay in Annacapri, a delightful luncheon at the Gelsomina restaurant and yes, some brave souls could not resist the pool overlooking the precipice!
Another fabulous discovery was the Villa San Michele that a Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe built on top of the Tiberius ruins and incorporated many of the artifacts in his villa and garden. A real delight to see. Some of us too, took the chairlift (1950's era) to the highest point on the Isle to see all of Naples, Vesuvius, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast down to Paestum laid out at our feet!
Weren't we smart to take the morning ferry back to Sorrento - empty - only to see the hoards of tourists boarding for their one day , not too in depth visit to this mysterious island that intrigued everyone from Roman generals to British playwrites.
One cannot bypass Sorrento - the narrow streets of the old town are a shopping delight. Famous for inlaid music boxes and limoncello, we found just that extra inch of space in our luggage to accommodate our new purchases.  Giovanni delivered us to the not so appealing city of Naples with a little stop at Pizza a Metro - yes they actually take pizza orders by the meter with your choice of toppings!
The port hotel/restaurant called Hotel Trans Atlantico made our stay in Naples a real pleasure. They only have 8 rooms and most of them look over Mt Vesuvius and the luxurious yachts lined up along the restaurant dock. Lots of comings and goings to keep one entertained all day and all night - even fireworks ! Yes, Dan and Arlene, there really were fireworks - loud and colourful ones!  A visit to the Archeological Museum with our informative guide, Nicolas complimented our understanding of Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii on that fateful day back in 72 AD. 
Our farewells were said at lunch on the restaurant terrace. Everyone going back to our routines in Canada or the US only to dream of the warm Italian hospitality and yes, those wonderful wines!!!